Photo by Melody

Soil and Composting: The worst clay soil on earth

Communities > Forums > Soil and Composting
bookmark
Forum: Soil and CompostingReplies: 72, Views: 861
Add to Bookmarks
-
AuthorContent
mlm01
St. Louis, MO
(Zone 5b)

April 15, 2005
3:20 AM

Post #1403946

I have the worst clay soil on this planet. I was digging down deep in a area to ammend the soil when I saw just how bad it is. It's perfect for a pottery class. When I got down about 8 inches, the color went from medium brown to a lighter tan! I was disgusted.

I am planning to start digging the stuff up in my raised beds, tilling and ammending it with humus, compost and perlite. Does this sound like overkill? Is compost and humus too much?

Thanks,

Maureen
Chilko
Precipice Valley, BC
(Zone 2a)

April 15, 2005
4:32 AM

Post #1404065

No you don't, Maureen--*I* have the worst clay soil!

When we were planning our garden, on our new site, DH said it would be easier to build up and fill raised beds with 30" of new stuff than to dig the beds! But we did it just with the vegetable beds; all my flower beds are CLAY CLAY CLAY.

I now bribe "someone" to dig down 2' and I fill the holes with a mixture of clay and other things. Clay has good nutrients--it just doesn't allow the roots to breathe or the water to drain away.

So, humus, compost and perlite aren't overkill!!!!! Find some sand and add it too. Add leaves. Non-sprayed grass cuttings. Dig up your neighbour's garden in the dead of night. Sneak into your nearby park. Go to the beach.

I think dolomite lime helps break down the clay, also.

Where do you live?
Yankee_Rosarian
Cary, NC
(Zone 7a)

April 15, 2005
10:31 AM

Post #1404249

Hello Maureen,

I understand your plight, I live in central NC and that is all there is once you get beyond the first 2 inches of topsoil. I have done the double dig routine and then added the usual compost, peat moss etc. mix but started to get to tired to garden with the upkeep.

Anyhow, if it is that horrible, it may be worthwhile for you to consider raised beds, which is what I did for a vegetable garden. Then I modified it to have something like a "lasagna garden bed."

This method has been great and very successful for the last five years, bumper crops of tomatoes, lettuce, beets, peas, etc. You name it, it's growing...

sylvi74
East Bethel, MN
(Zone 4a)

April 15, 2005
1:20 PM

Post #1404412

I have clay, rocks, and tree roots. I recommend building up as well!

frostweed

frostweed
Josephine, Arlington, TX
(Zone 8a)

April 15, 2005
8:26 PM

Post #1405051

Hello MLMO1, I know what you mean about bad soil. There are many ways to solve a problem, but if you want a permanent solution, sometimes the hard way is the best.
mlm01
St. Louis, MO
(Zone 5b)

April 17, 2005
1:48 AM

Post #1407639

LOL Chilko,

Those sound like things I've thought of, except my neighbors yards are probably as bad as mine! ;)

I live in St. Louis County Missouri, zone 5b. I knew we had clay but I didn't know just how bad it was until I started digging.

About the nutrients in clay--does that include the light tan colored soil I ran into? I thought light colored soil was bad, but I don't know much.

Maureen

mlm01
St. Louis, MO
(Zone 5b)

April 17, 2005
1:52 AM

Post #1407648

Hi Yankee,

Although the area I dug in was not raised, I do have raised beds, I just wonder if they are raised enough. The guys who did it did not dig down below the surface, just added compost and top soil on top. (I was very unsatisfied with their work, but that's another story.)

This has me wondering if I need to double dig anyway. How deep does the raised bed needs to be?

Thanks,

Maureen
mlm01
St. Louis, MO
(Zone 5b)

April 17, 2005
1:59 AM

Post #1407665

frostweed,

You describe my soil perfectly on your site where it says "...a sticky gook when wet and like a brick when dry."

This sounds like what I may have to do with my existing raised beds.

Here's a silly question, where do you put all the dirt when you dig it out?

Thanks,

Maureen

BTW--beautiful site, and great choice of music!

frostweed

frostweed
Josephine, Arlington, TX
(Zone 8a)

April 19, 2005
10:06 PM

Post #1413611

Hello Maureen, If you catch your soil at the right ammount of moisture, not too dry, not too wet,
you can break it up as you take it out, one thin slice at a time and lay it to the side of the bed.

The trick is not to cut too large of a clump, but rather thin slices, it breaks up better that way.

You will use that soil to layer with your ammendments and when you finish you will have a lovely raised bed.

Thank you for the compliments about our site, my husband built it and I took the pictures and did the research.
Josephine.
mstrgrdnr
SE GA, GA
(Zone 8a)

April 20, 2005
2:30 AM

Post #1414108

Be careful with clay soil.

Adding sand will simply create bigger issues unless...that is the important word...unless you add enough sand so that sand is 45% or more of the total volume. Less than that percentage and you will end up with something akin to brick which is no less impossible to garden with.

I would recommend that you go with raised beds because you can eliminate the work of trying to amend the soil and avoid the problems that come with inadequate amounts of sand.

The other advantage of raised beds versus amending the soil is being able to avoid drainage issues. Raised beds will drain out of the bottom but digging out an area of soil and amending it will basically create a bath tub effect.

Tons and tons (not literally) of compost and any other organic matter you can get will help over time but you will always have clay soil.

Good Gardening!

Aubrey
mlm01
St. Louis, MO
(Zone 5b)

April 20, 2005
2:10 PM

Post #1414907


>>Raised beds will drain out of the bottom but digging out an area of soil and amending it will basically create a bath tub effect.

I never thought about that but it makes sense. I'm going to try and ammend some of the soil under my raised beds and try to build my raised beds up higher.

thanks,

Maureen
storybookmum
Windsor, Ontario, ON
(Zone 6b)

April 22, 2005
2:18 AM

Post #1418716

I just dug in a few flowers that I brought from my old house, and we're all clay here, too, and everything that's dry is brick. I asked my husband to get some nice soil to mix into the raised beds because we have some roots showing, but it is DEFINITELY time to start composting here. I couldn't believe how thick and gluey it was. (Our subdivision is only 3 years old, so the land is still suffering the worst effects of having been absolutely destroyed to build, I guess).

Also ready to start a pottery class on the side,

Kris

darius

darius
So.App.Mtns.
United States
(Zone 5b)

April 22, 2005
12:50 PM

Post #1419384

GREENSAND!!!
[quote] Greensand is a sand or sediment that consists largely of dark greenish grains of glauconite, usually mixed with clay or sand. Seems there are three main places that mine Glauconite(greensand) in the United States, they are New Jersey, Texas and Arkansas. It is a natural mineral that opens up tight soil and binds the loose soils.

Greensand is mainly potash and a hydrated silicate of iron. It releases it's nutriential benefits through a exchange action in the soil to be taken up by the plants. The mineral has been used for decades which contains a huge amount of Potassium and other trace minerals(as many as 30).

Recommended application of greensand is 2-4 pounds per 100 square feet or 1 tone per acre.

The Jersey greensand contains 20% iron oxide and 7% Potassium(Potash). The ancient sea deposit is a slow release of Potash and the other essential minerals. Since the 1700s greensand has been used as a fertilizer and soil conditioner that looses clay soils and also increases the water holding capability of the sand and clay. Found when added to any soil will increase water holding properties.

Texas greensand also known as glittergreen holds pretty much same properties as New Jersey greensand. Potassium and iron soil supplement recommended for a mulch, conditioning additive or top dressing. It slow releases nutrients, loosens soils and holds water.

In Arkansas greensand is found in Nacatoch and Ozan formations, which extend from the Arkansas-Oklahoma border to Arkadelphia. Here the glauconite is in a sandy marl that can be 2-10 feet thick and be as pure as 50%.

Greensand is non-soluble in water but will not burn plants. Safe to handle and is odorless and best of all can be applied anytime of the year. [/quote]

http://www.basic-info-4-organic-fertilizers.com/greensand.html

Zeppy
Shenandoah Valley, VA
(Zone 6b)

April 22, 2005
1:11 PM

Post #1419440

I've used coir (in place of peat moss), decomposed straw and grass clippings, and greensand. So far so good; I'll report more later. I think a modified lasagna method can do well on clay, as well as broadforking the base soil.
mlm01
St. Louis, MO
(Zone 5b)

April 22, 2005
5:14 PM

Post #1420113

Zeppy,

Can you tell me what Coir is and what it's supposed to do? I really don't want to use peat myself.

Maureen
mickgene
Linden, VA
(Zone 6a)

April 22, 2005
6:17 PM

Post #1420252

Maureen,
Coir is coconut husk fibers. The hanging basket liners you see are coir. I use it whenever i have to chance to substitute it for peat at an affordable price; but haven't found yet a reliable source for large quantities. Maybe somebody else knows a source? It does seem to be becoming more and more available at least as a component of other products such as seed starter mix.
Zeppy
Shenandoah Valley, VA
(Zone 6b)

April 23, 2005
12:10 AM

Post #1420922

I get it at Countryside Natural Products in Fishersville, VA. First discovered them at their display at the Piedmont Small Farm Festival in the Plains when I lived up there.
http://www.countrysidenatural.com
I paid $4.95 per block (1/2 cubic foot bale; 11lbs). "100% biodegradable growing medium derived from the coconut husk. Naturally rich in nutrients, with a pH range of 5.5 to 6.5. Each bale will expand approximately 5 times when wetted, yielding nearly 2.5 cubic feet. Coir is a renewable by-product, unlike the peat moss that is being depleted."
mickgene
Linden, VA
(Zone 6a)

April 23, 2005
11:18 AM

Post #1421598

Thanks, Zeppy. That'd be much easier to tote around the garden than the 2.8 cu. yd. bale of peat, too. Saves not only the environment, but my back! :)
Zeppy
Shenandoah Valley, VA
(Zone 6b)

April 23, 2005
12:46 PM

Post #1421674

Hey, Mick, I forgot to mention that you have to add the water to it in a big bucket or the wheelbarrow and let it sit for a day to expand. So it's a little bit of a pain, but not bad...
mickgene
Linden, VA
(Zone 6a)

April 23, 2005
6:49 PM

Post #1422192

Thanks Zeppy for all the info. I looked at the Countryside Natural website and they look worth making a trip for. I'll just use the excuse of going to the Dayton Farmers' Market, a trip my DH is ALWAYS up for!
drewl
Atlanta, GA
(Zone 7b)

April 26, 2005
10:50 PM

Post #1429177

Lighter colored clays are typically a sign that the area has been flooded a lot in the past (which is probably the case since you're probably on an old flood plain near the grand ol' Mississippi). I'm not sure if this has to do with nutrient washout, but this is what I've been told. We typically have a lot of red clay here in the southeast, which when amended with lots of organic matter makes a beautiful loam that would be hard to accomplish in a sandy soil. However, in your circumstances, I'd suggest doing a raised bed.
spectrum

(Zone 2b)

April 29, 2005
9:20 PM

Post #1436630

[quote]I have the worst clay soil on this planet. I was digging down deep in a area to ammend the soil when I saw just how bad it is. It's perfect for a pottery class. When I got down about 8 inches, the color went from medium brown to a lighter tan! I was disgusted.[/quote]

8 inches of topsoil sounds pretty good to me. It's completely normal for the soil to change in appearance once you dig down past the topsoil - even in very good soils. Soil formation happens from the top down, and underneath the mature topsoil you will eventually get to the parent material. In most soil types there will be one or more layers in between - partially formed soil or a layer of leached material or that sort of thing. Soils that don't have layers are ones that have been churned around - for example by machines or by the natural cracking that happens in extremely heavy clays.
nadabigfarm
Gardena, CA

June 4, 2005
8:25 AM

Post #1520840

A word of caution: Sand mixed with clay = concrete. that is how they make it. Suggest compost, hay or any other kind of organic ammendments. Try deep rooted plants like dandelions to help break it up and bring the rich nutrients locked into the clay upwards. amend, amend and amend is the most important thing you can do.
YardenMan
Westerville, OH
(Zone 6a)

June 5, 2005
1:10 PM

Post #1522969

The lazy man's slow-but-sure way of breaking up clay soil: plant diakon (sp?) radishes and do not dig them up when they mature; let them decompose in the clay soil.
AngieRich
Locust Grove, AR
(Zone 7a)

June 8, 2005
8:52 PM

Post #1531907

YardenMan, can you please explain the daikon solution? Why that particular root vegetable? I'm curious and we do have clay here.
Zeppy
Shenandoah Valley, VA
(Zone 6b)

June 9, 2005
2:20 AM

Post #1532636

Check out the daikon radish in Plant Files. It's a honkin big root.

Myself, I dump layers of straw, grass clippings, etc. on top. Earthworms go nuts eating, and I'm left with better soil.
AngieRich
Locust Grove, AR
(Zone 7a)

June 9, 2005
5:11 PM

Post #1534135

I'm familiar with the daikons. Yes, they are honkin big things! My husband loves them as kimchee.

I think I'll give it a try in the fall and plant a couple of rows as an experiment.

Thanks!
YardenMan
Westerville, OH
(Zone 6a)

June 9, 2005
7:18 PM

Post #1534459

AingieRich: The daikon radishes are the giants of the radish world. They can get to be 4inches or more diameter by 12"-15" long. They are very vigorous growers with massive root systems that break up the clay soil. By not harvesting them and letting them rot in the ground you are accomplishing 2 things: 1) the decomposted radishes add organic humus to your clay soil and 2) the "holes" they leave behind have the same effect on your flower bed as when core areate your lawn.
AngieRich
Locust Grove, AR
(Zone 7a)

June 9, 2005
7:48 PM

Post #1534528

Thanks YardenMan! You talked me into it and I'm adding them to my seed list.
Pennzer
Midland, TX
(Zone 8a)

June 11, 2005
10:44 PM

Post #1539832

Keep a big barrel of alfalfa tea going at all times. Drench your soil with the tea, dregs and all. Keep doing this all of one growing season, and keep the entire area you are treating moist. Compost with leaves--preferably shredded, but have lots of twigs and coarse material mixed in to keep it aerated. The microbes and the worms will do their thing and turn your clay into loam. This is the same as amending with organic materials but faster--much, much faster. You can also throw in some garden soil or manure into your brew for even more microbes.

The key to handling this tea--and actually enjoying it--is not to let it ferment beyond the point that it begins to foam on top. Stirring occasionally is good, but judge its readiness by that time that you find it foamy on top when it has not been recently stirred. It will not smell bad at all. It will smell like alfalfa (well, if you add manure, it might smell like a barnyard). Do not put a lid on it. Put a screen on top if you need to keep varmits out, but I don't even find this necessary as the tea will be done in 12-24 hours during the heat of the summer--maybe as long as 5 days in cooler spring or fall weather. Letting it brew beyond that point that it begins to ferment (bubble) is what causes the brew to get rank. The prolonged brewing develops into a tea that gets increasing colonies of anaerobic bacteria, and that's what causes the wretched odor. Use your tea when it is fresher and has a higher ratio of aerobic microbes--that's what your soil wants.

Don't forget to keep your area moist. The moisture plus the microbial activity will bring the worms, and the worms will make your soil. You can even go ahead and plant in your clay as long as you make big planting holes and backfill with the clay plus equal parts of fluff. I use potting soil for the fluff. You could also use spanghum peat and some perlite. If you use potting soil, buy the cheapest stuff you can find. You don't need nutrients in it--just the fluff. The amended backfill will provide a decent growing media until the worms and the microbes do their thing to the native soil as you condition routinely with the alf tea. Of course, you will want to drench your planting hole with the tea before and after back filling.

Continue adding the tea to the soil directly around your plants (and on the foliage while you're at it) every 4 weeks, but keep drenching the unplanted areas as often as you can make the tea.

Purchase the alfalfa pellets at your local farmer's co-op--about $6.50 for 50 lbs. This is the stuff they use for horse feed. Don't use rabbit feed--it typically contains additives you don't want in your soil. If molasses is an added ingredient, that's good. The molasses will help feed the aerobic bacteria and keep the aerobic:anaerobic ratio high, and this is good.

Happy gardening,
Pen


spectrum

(Zone 2b)

June 12, 2005
9:38 PM

Post #1542333

[quote]The microbes and the worms will do their thing and turn your clay into loam. This is the same as amending with organic materials but faster--much, much faster.[/quote]
This isn't quite accurate. 'Loam' and 'clay' have nothing to do with how much organic matter there is in the soil. They are texture classifications based on the percentage of clay particles, silt particles, and sand particles in the soil. A soil must have at least 50% sand and no more than about 27% clay in order to be classified as a loam. Even to be classified as a 'clay loam' or a 'silty clay loam' it could have no more than 40% clay.

Changing the amount of organic matter will not change the texture from clay to loam or anything else. Microbes and worms cannot change clay particles into silt or sand particles, so they also will not alter the texture. Amendments such as manure, compost, 'teas', pellets, etc. will not alter the texture. Adding organic matter and having earthworms will likely change the structure of the soil, making it more crumbly and less dense, and breaking up larger clods of soil, but it will not alter the texture. The only way to alter the texture is to alter the percentage of clay, silt, and sand, which is usually not practical.

http://www.uwsp.edu/geo/faculty/ritter/glossary/s_u/soil_texture_triangle.html

frostweed

frostweed
Josephine, Arlington, TX
(Zone 8a)

June 12, 2005
9:53 PM

Post #1542358

It seems to me that we are getting stuck between the differences of structure and texture.
Actually, for the purpose of organic gardening, it really doesn't matter if we alter the texture, or the structure, as long as the soil is soft and friable, has lots of organic matter, and can be worked easily, that is what we really after.
If the soil is healthy, it will suppot abundant plant life.
I think that the advice that Penzer gave is very good, and works very well.
Pennzer
Midland, TX
(Zone 8a)

June 13, 2005
3:46 AM

Post #1543258

Thanks, Frostweed, for your comments, and I'm pleased you found my post useful, but I do stand corrected.

I will change my quote to...
"The microbes and the earthworms will do their thing and change your clay into a worthy media for gardening."

How's that, Spectrum? I note that you are a soil scientist, and you are welcome to correct my rants at any time. This whole matter of soil science is fascinating to me, and I wish I had more formal education in this area. I would be very interested to hear your recommendations for coping with clay. I live in West Texas, and we typically have only a thin layer of alkaline, clayey topsoil on a caliche base. Alfalfa tea has changed my life, but I am still inclined to grow only those plants that are known to tolerate our soil. The difference is that now my plants thrive, whereas before they merely existed. Replacing my soil is out of the question. I'm determined to cope with the native soil.

Hey, I note that you did not take exception to my term "fluff". How's that for amateur nomenclature? ;)


spectrum

(Zone 2b)

June 14, 2005
4:01 AM

Post #1545830

Sounds better :) 'Aspiring soil scientist' might be a better description. I didn't actually notice the word 'fluff' :) I tend to read less carefully towards the end of posts. But it's not a scientific term anyway, so you didn't use it inaccurately :)

Interestingly enough, clay soil is valued here because it can hold more water than lighter soil textures. We have a semi-arid climate and generally need the soil to hold as much water from snowmelt as it can. And it doesn't wear out cultivator shovels and openers as quickly as more sandy soils. However, it does have the drawbacks of requiring more horsepower in machinery and being susceptible to water erosion and 'crusting' which can cause problems with seedling emergence. And there's also the possibility of large cracks causing problems with machinery - breaking axles and that sort of thing.

Around here, it is suggested that people leave lots of plants (roots) in the soil to protect it from water erosion. That also helps to prevent some of the crusting. So, instead of cultivating the old crop under, direct seeding into stubble is a better option. Of course, that doesn't always work so well for gardens. Mulching might be a reasonable alternative. Growing plants that like whatever soil you have is always a logical decision :)

When you say 'alkaline' are you referring to pH or to salinity (patches of white on the surface)?
Pennzer
Midland, TX
(Zone 8a)

June 14, 2005
4:38 AM

Post #1545875

Our soil is high pH. I assume that's because of lime leaching from all the rocks and the caliche base. Caliche is sometimes no more than a few inches beneath the surface. One does not plant acid-loving plants here except in raised beds or containers or unless one is prepared to treat routinely with chelated iron. I have read that there is no way to permanently change the pH of soil in any significant way, but I am guessing that the alf tea drenches I apply tend to neutralize it, much as a compost heap neutralizes over time.

Oddly, our clay tends to drain well, but I am guessing that is because the soil layer is so thin. I would think as soon as the water reaches the gravelly caliche, it just trickles on down to China. Wish I understood more about these things. I can water my beds till they're boggy in the evening, and by the next afternoon they're already baking again. I guess it's the aridity and this blistering West Texas sun. Mulch helps a lot.

The main problem with our soil is that it is so tight. A plant must have great vigor to establish roots in our native soil. I have some young crepe myrtles really struggling to get established. No matter how much water I apply, the leaves turn curly and crispy, and this is a tree that is supposed to love the heat and tolerate drought. I can imagine that they are just not able to take up enough of the water that is being applied. I backfilled their holes with good stuff, but I was not able to make the holes very deep because I hit that dreaded caliche. Every time I apply the tea, these little trees put on a great show of new growth, but the new growth soon gets crispy, too. They're trying to bloom now. Wish I knew what I could do to help them. Any ideas?
spectrum

(Zone 2b)

June 14, 2005
8:38 AM

Post #1546023

Hmm. The alkaline part sounds similar to here - our soils generally also have a high pH, due to the fact that many are calcareous. Typically somewhere between 7 and 8, although sometimes higher in certain soil types. We also don't plant acid-loving crops (like blueberries) and need to apply iron to some fruit trees - apples especially. Changing soil pH is difficult, especially in a well-buffered soil that contains a lot of carbonate. On the plus side, it means that the soil is more resistant to the effects of acid rain :) Minor/localized/temporary changes in pH can happen with the addition of certain fertilizers (eg - sulfur), peat, some seed innoculants, etc. Manure addition will slightly lower the pH of an alkaline soil. But usually not in any really significant way.

As far as the hard layer goes, that's tough to deal with. If it's just a layer of hardpan with looser material directly underneath, deep tillage may temporarily break it up. But if it's a really thick, dense layer then I'm not sure just what would help. Around here, we use that sort of land for pasture rather than for crops (or gardens). And what usually grows best is native grassland plants that are well adapted to just that sort of soil.
okieherbnerd
Marlow, OK

July 18, 2005
11:19 AM

Post #1631382

I have the same soil here in oklahoma... Nothing but sand and clay.
I dig holes/trinches down to the clay and mix the top soil/sand with compost from my worm beds. Lotta work but it is the only way here to grow anything..
Badseed
Hillsboro, OH
(Zone 6a)

October 2, 2005
4:06 PM

Post #1793263

I was going to start a new thread but thought my question might fit in here. I am accustomed to heavy red clay and have learned to deal with that. I just bought a farm a dug a hole 10x15x3' deep. I dug it out with a bobcat. After I went through the sod and topsoil, I found that everything under that is crumbly gray clay. You can form it into a nice ball then crumble it back into dust. If you run it over with a bobcat, it turns to cement but will go back to dust if you hit it with a shovel. How do I deal with that? I have not done a perk test yet but that is next on the agenda. Has anyone worked with this kind of soil?

As the area holds water, but does not flood, I know I need to build up anyway to save roots sitting in cold wet soil in the spring. Anyone have any tips?
adkgardener
Bloomingdale, NY
(Zone 4a)

October 3, 2005
12:42 AM

Post #1794008

Badseed,

I farmed in clay soil; actually clay and rock. Our kitchen garden consisted of double-dug raised beds with a (semi) permanent mulch. The market gardens were mostly wide rows on the flat in which I tilled in many tons of woodchips and leaves. (Most days after work I stopped at the town garages and filled the pickup with a load of chips. I did this for years.) I also had good results with growing buckwheat as a green manure crop. When we sold the place some ten years later, the soil was hardly recognizable as the rocky clay we started with.

There are legumes that will add organic matter with the added benefit that roots penetrate deeper in to the subsoil and you get some free nitrogen.

Wayne
Badseed
Hillsboro, OH
(Zone 6a)

October 3, 2005
1:09 AM

Post #1794100

Thank you very much for your reply Wayne. I know I have lots of work ahead of me. :)
spectrum

(Zone 2b)

October 3, 2005
3:21 AM

Post #1794344

[quote]I was going to start a new thread but thought my question might fit in here. I am accustomed to heavy red clay and have learned to deal with that. I just bought a farm a dug a hole 10x15x3' deep. I dug it out with a bobcat. After I went through the sod and topsoil, I found that everything under that is crumbly gray clay. You can form it into a nice ball then crumble it back into dust. If you run it over with a bobcat, it turns to cement but will go back to dust if you hit it with a shovel. How do I deal with that? I have not done a perk test yet but that is next on the agenda. Has anyone worked with this kind of soil?

As the area holds water, but does not flood, I know I need to build up anyway to save roots sitting in cold wet soil in the spring. Anyone have any tips?[/quote]
You'll probably want to avoid doing anything that would compact the gray layer and cause it to become hard for roots to penetrate. So, don't cultivate when it's really wet and don't put really heavy objects like big trucks where you want to grow stuff. Can I ask how deep your topsoil is and whether the gray layer had any particular shape/size of clumps in it?
Badseed
Hillsboro, OH
(Zone 6a)

October 3, 2005
12:21 PM

Post #1794657

Here is a picture that I took after I dug the pond. The ledge by the grass is only about 5" deep. I still need to level that off. You can see how the dirt just gets lighter and lighter as it goes down. The loose dirt laying on both sides is exactly how it came out. When I would dump the scoop, it would nearly slide out like sand. Had I dug the hole at my other house, the red clay soil would have fallen out in a huge chunk. This gray clay or silt is more like sand. You can shape it into a ball fairly easy then just lightly squeeze and it goes back to a very loose soil again. I guess when I run up today, I will do a perk test and see how it holds water. I have to figure out what to add and get moving!

Thumbnail by Badseed
Click the image for an enlarged view.

kbaumle
Northwest, OH
(Zone 5b)

October 6, 2005
7:02 AM

Post #1800226

Mom and I were digging today and she made the remark that we should start making pottery with what we encountered. But I'll make this suggestion: get some cats. The best soil I have is that which my cats use as a litter box. And it was pure clay about three years ago. Now it's the most wonderful stuff and whatever I grow there just does fantastically.
Badseed
Hillsboro, OH
(Zone 6a)

October 6, 2005
12:49 PM

Post #1800424

Maybe we should consider getting some pigs! LOL I think I read it on the farm forum, if you have pigs in an area, they will root all around in the soil and make for some great dirt. Maybe we can set up temporary pens and just keep moving them when the dirt is ready. :)
Judy38
Dewey, AZ

October 6, 2005
2:57 PM

Post #1800620

I have just been reading that expanded shale does a wonderful job on clay soil. I have what looks like riverbottom muck that was put in my veggie garden before. For 4 years I have been putting ,many many organics in to it, but hasn't helped much. Do any of you know of a source for expanded shale? Have spent hours reading and looking for it on the web. Have also used greensand, but maybe not enough.
adkgardener
Bloomingdale, NY
(Zone 4a)

October 6, 2005
6:02 PM

Post #1800901

>The best soil I have is that which my cats use as a litter box.

Best for what? Sounds like an incubator for pathogens, to me. Ok for ornamentals I guess but I wouldn't want to plant vegetables in it..

Badseed: Turning those pigs loose in the pond excavation is the best way of compacting that soil into a watertight bathtub.

Wayne
spectrum

(Zone 2b)

October 9, 2005
5:21 AM

Post #1805939

[quote]Here is a picture that I took after I dug the pond. The ledge by the grass is only about 5" deep. I still need to level that off. You can see how the dirt just gets lighter and lighter as it goes down. The loose dirt laying on both sides is exactly how it came out. When I would dump the scoop, it would nearly slide out like sand. Had I dug the hole at my other house, the red clay soil would have fallen out in a huge chunk. This gray clay or silt is more like sand. You can shape it into a ball fairly easy then just lightly squeeze and it goes back to a very loose soil again. I guess when I run up today, I will do a perk test and see how it holds water. I have to figure out what to add and get moving![/quote]
How much moisture do you have in that soil when you're making it into a ball? If you wet it up a small amount really well and make a watery slurry of it in the palm of your hand, and let it soak for a few minutes, does it feel slippery, sticky, or gritty?
Badseed
Hillsboro, OH
(Zone 6a)

October 9, 2005
12:36 PM

Post #1806129

I am ashamed to say I have not had much time to play with my soil. I have been too busy running back and forth and trying to get settled before old man winter attacks.

I dug some holes to plant ornamental grasses and threw some shredded sphagnum into the holes and mixed it with the clay. The grasses seem to be doing fine. I did notice that any type of depression in the clay soil, holds water for a period, whether or not compacted.

The soil that I did press into a ball held it's shaped but fell apart with pressure. It was pretty dry. I really will try to get a soil test and examine my soil as soon as I come up for air.
Back40
Rio Rico, AZ
(Zone 8b)

October 10, 2005
7:49 PM

Post #1808680

Hello from the clay,caliche,rock, high ph desert SW Ariz.
I too started with raised beds (1500 sf to date) 8x8x16 block
my first year some beds were 1 block high others 2. I have used
every mix i can think of and overall adding 30% organic matter
will get you going and ok results. Amend again next lift or next planting..Those with a LOT of amending might try the big box stores as I have gotten bag upon bag (broken) for 1/2 price or
free on a regular basis.. I Just mix them all in one big bin and use as needed. The results have been great.
roxroe
Winchester, VA
(Zone 6b)

October 14, 2005
6:22 PM

Post #1816143

when you make raised beds is it recommended that you put something on the bottom
cause if I don't roots will take over and invade. Or is this a bad idea?
adkgardener
Bloomingdale, NY
(Zone 4a)

October 14, 2005
6:41 PM

Post #1816184

I can't imagine what you would put on the bottom of a raised bed to keep any persistant roots out other than concrete or sheet metal. The common trick for the so-called "lasagna" scheme calls for layers of newspaper but they rot in a relative heartbeat. If enough mulch is added on top of your soil, the paper serves little purpose in my mind except to add some additional organic matter to the soil. They certainly don't last long enough to maintain a barrier to smother bindweed.

I made about 1600 sf of raised beds this year, about a quarter of them so far double-dug in the biointensive method. Of course, nothing is put "on the bottom." After a full growing season, I was only mildly troubled by some rosa rugosa and a rambler rose growing wild near the garden. Yank & they're gone.

I can't imaginge the cost of buying all the organic matter I need at a box store. Around here, all the material necessary for compost, fertilizer and mulch is free for the hauling, raking or mowing.

Wayne
mlm01
St. Louis, MO
(Zone 5b)

November 9, 2005
5:24 PM

Post #1866183

Hello again,

I was all ready to try shredding the 9000 zillion oak leaves in our yard with a tiller and into my raised bed and then the guy who cuts our grass said that was a bad thing to do unless you have roses.

Is there something different about oak leaves? I have a strong suspicion that he is wrong but I thought I'd check.

Thanks,

Maureen
Zeppy
Shenandoah Valley, VA
(Zone 6b)

November 9, 2005
5:39 PM

Post #1866211

I, too, suspect he's wrong. Oak leaves have been nuthin but good for my garden ('specially carrots & potatoes). I think he's referring to the acidity of the oak leaves. They do contain tannic acid, but I've never heard of anyone having a problem with that, and I love it myself, since my clay is pretty alkaline. They do not contain juglone, the substance that black walnuts secret which kills or stunts many plants ('specially the nightshade family). Most veggies tend to like a slightly acidic soil anyway.

Oak leaves WILL lighten up your soil nicely, so make sure you water enough, come spring.
pelletory
Marlton, NJ

November 10, 2005
12:30 PM

Post #1867473

Hi Everyone,
I just had to jump in here because I haven't heard anyone mention GREEN CLAY soil (I'm talking bright green). This is definitely one type of clay that you cannot add sand to, it immediately turns to concrete no matter what else is added to ammend. If you put a bucket of water in a hole it will be a week or more before it drains.
If raised gardens were made the soil beneath would have to be amended deeply and then the clay would take over soon enough anyway.
For each plant we just dig a hole as deep and wide as possible adding gypsum and clay conditioner to the bottom and sides of each hole then fill with composted cow manure and organic humus etc. Lasagna Method (with layers of wet cardboard etc.) is done around each hole and the plant gets put in very high. I noticed this last year that the clay took over within 3-4 months so its a constant amending process. Only the most hardy make it in this soil. :-(
davidmk
Austin, TX
(Zone 8b)

December 5, 2005
6:37 PM

Post #1909378

Judy38,
You asked about expanded shale. I only read this thread today. Here is one link: http://www.designerdirt.com/

I hope that worked, I have not posted a linked before. I recently made a new bed - perenials, shrubs, some succulents, and besides other ammendments, II have clay as well, and added zeolite, which I believe can be a substitute for expanded shale, though I am not positive. It is found in many stores under the name cat litter! Not all cat litter is zeolite. I found it in the generic grocery store brand- the cheap stuff. Google zeolite and see that it is worth considering.

David
ozarkian
Gravois Mills, MO
(Zone 6a)

December 10, 2005
9:12 PM

Post #1917933

MIM01 I am not sure where you live in St louis area but MAYBE oak leaves could be bad. I think it depends on the oak leaves your using and how acid they are. If there is to much acid you can add lime to the bed and it will even it out. I lived in St louis and St Charles county for years. I noted your post about Worst Clay soil in the world. I thought this guy must live in a new subdivision in St Charles. I owned a new home near Weldon Springs and you could not even dig in the stuff. Now I live on Lake of the Ozarks and still got trouble digging with all the rocks but many things like hosta and evergreens grow real well out here.
adkgardener
Bloomingdale, NY
(Zone 4a)

December 10, 2005
9:28 PM

Post #1917972


From Missouri Conservationist Online:

Myth or Reality?

"You can't use oak leaves on your garden because they're too acid."

False. As oak leaves rot they lose their slight acidity, and the oak leaf mold ends up alkaline.

http://www.conservation.state.mo.us/conmag/1995/10/07.html

Wayne
ineedacupoftea
Denver, CO

December 11, 2005
6:30 AM

Post #1918582

What a fun thread.

And what a pity about Oak leaves not being acidic. I spent some time this year hunting out the rare oak trees in my city, and arranging to collect the leaves to put on my ferns. (We have 7.5-8.0 pH) At least they are a nice shape for an airy and strong mulch.

My belief for amending any soil is tons of organic matter. (And unlike Aubrey above, I mean it literally.)

(Remeber Wayne, that not everyone can get to the treasures of free material, as many elderly gentlemen have told me when I ask them about their choice for soil amendments: They often say that bags are just easier to store and handle)

I figure that a person can play all he wants with the inorganic structure of the soil, but why not solve the structure issues at the same time as adding organic content? I subscribe to a 50% initial organic amendment, and this does drastically turn my hard Clay into something that I can dig with my fingers.

For places similar to this desert hot spot, I must admit that all of this organic content makes the clay drain well- too well. The sun here can completely dessicate six inches of wet soil within one summer day. Another use for leaves: summer water-saving mulch.

I would like to add the term 'Subsoil' to this discussion: The soil below the topsoil, of very poor horticultural use. Some sources say to never bother this soil (making sure to never bring it to the surface,) and leave it where it is. (Some whackos like myself say it should be amended, too. My chiropractor knows about this.)

I think that one should also add to this general clay amendment discussion the importance of avoiding interface between unamended and amended areas; below and to the sides. (The term "Bathtub" has been tossed.) I like to fork the sides and bottoms of planting holes that have shovel-flat edges.

And two questions for experts: (Spectrum or Aubrey, eh?): What inorganic additive is equatable to the effect of organic content, and what is the texture like of High-organic soils in the long run, after the organic particals are well broken down?

Kenton
ozarkian
Gravois Mills, MO
(Zone 6a)

December 11, 2005
3:13 PM

Post #1918842

ADGARDENER

That might be true but he siad a jillion of them. I was thinking along the line of upcoming season. The key thing is "as they rot". They take a long time to rot. Most garden books say that Oak are acid and I know Oaks have a effect on the grass near them. As far as the Missouri Conservationist is concerned. I do not know what to say about them. They are nothing like the great organization they used to be.
superk
Portland, TX
(Zone 9a)

March 29, 2006
9:34 PM

Post #2148460

hey there folks;
Im a newer member of DG and I love reading your informative comments.I live and garden in zone 9a and struggle with clay.
I read about a product called Zeolite?? It's supposed to be a soil conditioner. It can be used for other things as I understand it, but dos anyone know about it, how to use it, ect.
Thanks !
davidmk
Austin, TX
(Zone 8b)

April 8, 2006
2:50 AM

Post #2172842

Hey Superk,

Here are some links with some info. In my latest garden bed I mixed in some zeolite from HEB- kitty litter. I made this bed in the fall. I have clay- Blackland prarie half of Austin. I mixed in some other ammendments as well. The Dirt Doctor is a good site, and a good TX site. Hope this helps.

http://www.dirtdoctor.com/view_question.php?id=763

http://www.garden-ville.com/products/additives/efficientz.htm

http://www.dirtdoctor.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=5934&highlight=zeolite

David
luvsplants
North MS (near Tunic, MS
(Zone 7b)

April 14, 2006
5:34 AM

Post #2189077

Here in MS we have no topsoil on top of our clay, we just have heavy red clay - period in places. I have a trick here that works well, works quickly and isnt all that hard if you have a tiller. The real problem with clay as far as gardening is that you can till it up when dry and it becomes nice and workable, but after it sits for a bit it become hard as concrete again and chokes out the plants. I solve this by tilling it to break it up. Then I dump bags of cheap wood mulch on it and grass clippings. I then till all of this together. As this material rots into the soil it adds a lot of "good" things for plants, I wont get technical here. THe great thing though is the mulch keeps the clay from packing again, so it stays "loose". I would be willing to put our tough red clay against anyones, I truly feel that since this works here, it should work for all of you. Good luck
Edens_Gardener
Clay Center, KS
(Zone 5b)

April 15, 2006
2:51 AM

Post #2191338

Our local nursery recommended cottonseed meal to amend clay soil (living in Clay Center, KS, Clay County KS should lend a clue!) We have had great results with the flower/shrub beds that we amended with this. We also use large amounts of mulch, adding to it every spring. We purchased 75 bags of cypress mulch this spring. Vegetable garden and yard were also amended with a sandy topsoil prior to planting, and get lots of compost. Clay soil seems to be a mixed blessing, if you can add enough amendments to lighten it up, it does a remarkable job of growing and nuturing great shrubs and flowers. Having lived where we had almost nothing but a sand pile (Colorado Springs) and not being able to keep it moist enough, I probably prefer the heavier clay soil.
Soferdig
Kalispell, MT
(Zone 4b)

April 15, 2006
3:25 AM

Post #2191427

amen from clay city Montana. Lots of compost and mulch.
This is my clay bed with addition of pine needles,peat, pine cones shredded, compost, and bark all mixed in. Just finished yesterday.

Thumbnail by Soferdig
Click the image for an enlarged view.

organic1
DFW Metroplex, TX
(Zone 8a)

October 23, 2006
6:22 PM

Post #2843294

I have clay soil. I like it better than sandy soil. Clay soil has a lot of nutrients in it, they are just tied up in a form that is not available to plants. Also, when clay has been neglected, either due to synthetic fertilizers or from exposure to the elements (no mulch no ground cover, just bare soil), then it looses it's crumb structure and plants cannot get the oxygen they need.

Tilling over and over again disrupts the mychorrizal fungi that help the roots of plants. Mychorrizal fungus is helpful to roots and actually becomes a part of them, expanding out many times the mass of root structure. They break down nutrients in the soil into a form that plants are able to absorb.

Dr. Elaine Ingham, soil biologist with Oregon State University, has done some fantastic research on this.

A good way to make a mucky mess is to bury anything green in clay soil. With no oxygen, it can not break down. I know this first hand after having a sewer line put in.
pajaritomt
Los Alamos, NM
(Zone 5a)

October 24, 2006
2:59 AM

Post #2844668

Digging compost into the first few inches of soil works best, but after that mulching is best. I, too, have clay soil. I use raised beds for things like carrots which would be deformed by planting them in clay or gravely soil. I put a lot of other plants in there is well, but In non raised beds, I simply dig in compost, or well rotted manure if I run out of compost, and each year that I do it, my veggies grow larger and healthier. I have a lot of gravel in my soil as well -- thanks to previous owners, not nature. I do extract gravel with a sieve as much as possible, but extracting it all is hopeless for any given year. Nevertheless, the annual addition of lots of compost and manure improves my plants each year. Double digging isn't necessary. What works is annually digging the compost a little deeper. The good soil gets deeper and deeper as the years go by.
The plant roots go farther down each year and loosen a few more inches of the soil each year. It is a slow process. Each year the plants grow stronger, dig deeper with their roots. The following year, the compost can be dug in deeper yet, yielding stronger, healthier plants. It doesn't have to be dandelions or daikon although both are no doubt good. Most plants will go as deep as they can.
What I am getting at is that it isn't an overnight process to build good soil, though raised beds are the fastest way. Over years, the soil and the plants improve each year, raised beds or not.
Soferdig
Kalispell, MT
(Zone 4b)

October 25, 2006
6:23 PM

Post #2849465

I think that vermicomposting is the next best way to get the soil improved. Worms are attracted to wet layers of newspaper lots of mulch on top and everything you put there will be dragged down into the deep parts of soil.
caganimalover
Joshua, TX
(Zone 8a)

October 31, 2006
11:34 PM

Post #2870085

Maureen and Chilko,
I beg to differ but I have THE WORST clay soil!!! I have worked in and on this horrible stuff for 20 years now. Single-handedly wetting, digging, wetting, digging, adding mulch, leaves, gypsum, compost, horse manure, corn cob grit, hay, veggie/fruit scraps; the list goes on and on and on... It can not be broken or dug if dry, but don't wet it too much or it will either just wash over the top of the ground or IF it soaks in; be mush.
AAAUUUGGGHHH!!! Yes I want to scream often and my husband doesn't seem to "GET IT". He refuses to help me! Talk about HARD WORK!!! It is exhausting.
Most of my ground is "hardpan" on top. ALL soil has washed off the top. Many times after I work an area, the rain comes and washes all the good stuff right off the top and down to the creek. (This has even happened to the area that we have grass growing in. The top soil over the grass has been washed away and left the roots on or near the top of the ground.) I don't have even a half inch to an inch of anything on top. All of it is hardpan, clay, and normally has rock in with it too.
I have many areas that every few inches the rain washes off, I can go out and pick up layers of flat rocks covering the ground. Just wait for enough rain and go out again to pick up more flat rock covering the ground. And so on and so on... And for some reason my husband thinks that the multiple layers of flat rocks don't inhibit the growth of plants and trees. Go figure. Men!
The unknowing onlookers and "knowledgable" folks inevitably say; "just use a tiller and til in compost". Idiots. They don't listen when I talk or they would have already heard me say the ground is like concrete. A tiller is worthless. Tillers don't even penetrate the ground. At all. The only locations a tiller can be used is where I've already done the (single-handed) manual labor (for years).
I have one area that I have worked for 4 years on. Still even though I have added ammendments and mixed and become exhausted; the ground hardens off on top and my plants barely survive. I have to periodically fork the ground and open it up for the water to penetrate.
Nightmare in Clay-ville. ~~~ Carol
Soferdig
Kalispell, MT
(Zone 4b)

November 1, 2006
1:52 AM

Post #2870525

I bet you feel a lot better now that you got that off your chest! Ahhhhhhhhhhh! Good work Carol. Well our time is finished the next session is in a week, same time. LOL
happy_macomb
Chevy Chase, MD
(Zone 7a)

July 5, 2007
10:51 PM

Post #3700455

This is a really helpful thread -- thanks to all of you.
pennefeather
McLean, VA
(Zone 6b)

July 8, 2007
4:18 AM

Post #3709662

It definitely made me feel better about my clay soil.
organic1
DFW Metroplex, TX
(Zone 8a)

April 25, 2008
10:03 PM

Post #4863903

Get more of an appreciation for your clay soil by reading my post above.

Compost is an excellent idea, as long as it is good high quality compost.
You might want to do a test on it first.

The test: Get a peanut plant. Make a "tea" with the compost. Put some in a nylon stocking or cheesecloth and soak it in water for a few hours. A day will be more than enough. Water the peanut plant with the "tea. If after an hour the leaves have shriveled, the compost is not good. This is likely due to an SU herbicide, possibly picloram.

For a lawn, rent an aerator that pulls out "plugs" of the soil. After, apply 1/2" - 1" of good compost over the lawn and water it in. The best time of year to do this is in the fall.

Get good compost and till it in the beds. This should be the only time you till. Add some expanded shale. It is also beneficial to add volcanic rock powders to the bed: lava sand greensand... Zeolite is a good product, too. You do not need to add the lava sand if you live in an area that already has volcanic rock in the soil. Add some cornmeal and dry or liquid molasses to the mix. Microbes will do their job and you will be pleased with the results!

Most of all do NOT use synthetic fertilizers. This will only make things worse.

Cheers!

RickCorey_WA

RickCorey_WA
Everett, WA
(Zone 8a)

September 9, 2010
4:35 PM

Post #8089696

About 'Subsoil':

Where I am, I have to pay $3 for 50# of sand, and even a cubic yard of sand is very expensive by the time they deliver it. If I had SANDY subsoil (not too many pebbles or rocks) I would bring a few inches of it up into the clay layer. I would be willing to screen out the pebbles if I could get free sand! I already have to screen river pebbles out of my clay, just to rescue the clay! Evidently the builders thought that pebbles and rocks were decorative, or at least low-maintenance.

I recently read that good loam can be 50% sand! No wonder I haven't been able to make loam just by adding organics to clay! It is amazing to me that sand is more expensive than aged manure. (Is it obvious that I live in a fairly urban area?)

I wish I could find a subsoil layer in my yrad! Anywhere in my yard that I've dug deep, I just find more clay, or clay plus big rocks. I've thought of renting a powered post-hole digger, to try to dig a "chimney" or well down to a layer that DOES drain, but I would feel pretty silly digging as deep as that would go, and just finding more clay plus rocks.

Instead I run shallow trenches along slight slopes.

You cannot post until you register, login and subscribe.


Other Soil and Composting Threads you might be interested in:

SubjectThread StarterRepliesLast Post
Clay poppysue 16 Oct 21, 2013 3:56 PM
Free compost, myth or truth JaiMarye 14 Oct 27, 2010 6:58 AM
Who Bakes Dirt 76summerwind 29 Apr 4, 2008 6:22 PM
sterilizing options tiG 22 Mar 29, 2008 7:47 PM
Soil & Fertilizer: Compost Tea SoCal 119 Mar 5, 2008 11:18 PM


We recommend Firefox
Overwhelmed? There's a lot to see here. Try starting at our homepage.

[ Home | About | Advertise | Media Kit | Mission | Featured Companies | Submit an Article | Terms of Use | Tour | Rules | Privacy Policy | Contact Us ]

Back to the top

Copyright © 2000-2014 Dave's Garden, an Internet Brands company. All Rights Reserved.
 

Hope for America